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Arab Spring expert shares insight on Arab revolutions

Ayan Sheikh / Lantern reporter

The man responsible for coining the term “Arab Spring,” Marc Lynch, visited Ohio State’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies as part of the center’s Islam and Democracy Speaker Series.

The revolutionary movement that has swept across the Arab world began in December 2010 and it seemed to have a domino effect on other Arab countries. Although the occurrence of the uprisings came as a surprise to many Arab scholars, Lynch said the Arab revolution had been developing over the course of a decade.

“What we saw in 2010 and 2011 was … something where people who have been struggling and striving in a whole variety of creative and increasingly effective ways for at least a decade broke through,” Lynch said.

In front of about 70 people at the Mershon Center, Lynch said the Arab Spring had a set of distinct characteristics, which he said had a certain degree of “uniqueness” to them. Characteristics included the level of mobilization in sectors and communities that have not been mobilized and the unification of Arab political space.

Protesters comprised mainly of disenfranchised youth, union workers and activists joining forces in a fairly non-ideological coalition.

“There was something new in January of 2011 and that was that this group of activists managed for the first time to form effective linkages out in the border mass publics,” Lynch told the crowd on Tuesday.

In the case of Egypt in 2011, the number of “creative and experienced” activists went from about 5,000 in the streets to suddenly a million. Protesters in search of reform in their country, they weren’t happy with their dictators.

What made the uprisings successful in Tunisia and Egypt was that former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian resident Hosni Mubarak, were taken by surprise and Lynch called that a crucial difference between the current Arab Spring and all other previous demonstrations in the region.

“They had security forces deployed, they had all of their usual things in place to prevent protest,” Lynch said. “But if it had been 5,000 people, they would’ve won hands down, no question.”

Apart from the large mass demonstrations, what set the Arab Spring apart from previous demonstrations was the sense of unity amongst all Arab nations, Lynch said. The issue was no longer that of internal and local struggles it became a common struggle for all Arabs.

Zach Rybarczyk, a third-year in political science, said he has a positive outlook toward the effectiveness of the Arab Spring and said he shares similar views as Lynch.

“In my opinion, the optimistic opinion on the future of Arab uprising, it’s a viewpoint that I don’t think we have here in the U.S. very often,” Rybarczyk said. “I believe we’re more pessimistic that military rule or Islamist rule in Egypt will crush any democracy that has taken place so far.”

Despite the success of some Arab nations in toppling their dictators regimes, countries like Syria and Bahrain are under siege. Lynch said what differentiates the protests in Bahrain and Syria from the rest was the use of brutal military force against demonstrators.

“In Bahrain, you had more than half of the country’s population in the streets protesting,” Lynch said. “When the troops roll in, clear the streets, the Bahraini regime then begins a comprehensive crack down … which led to a whole cell campaign of arrests of anybody suspected of involvement in activism.”

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